tv Q A CSPAN May 19, 2013 11:00pm-12:01am EDT
" chief washington correspondent david singer, "washington post" priest, and a former white house security adviser to president bush. live coverage begins 11:00 on c- span. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2013] [captioning performed by national captioning institute] >> this week, national medal of science laureate jim gates junior discusses his life, his education, and his work as professor at the university system of maryland, the professor of physics, and the director at the center for string and particle theory at the university of maryland. >> how would you define the word, science? >> the method by which humanity acquires the most for sites understanding of our home, our universe.
>> when did you first get into it? >> my story is weird. it starts with diet was four years old. dad was a soldier. rolling across western europe, but in the 1950's, the u.s. still had army bases. dad was stationed at st. john's. one day, my mother took her three children to see a movie. the movie was called space waves. it was about space travel. i figured this movie out three or four years ago. i still have memories of what the movie was like. i carried these memories my entire life. i used them to figure out what the movie was.
it stars -- when i saw the star, i knew why my mom took me to see the movie. my mother had no interest in technology. she was an artist. i always wondered how she took me to see the movie. it was my mothers favorite star. it made perfect sense she would take me to the movie. that was my first encounter with science. that evening, i try to come home and explain rockets to my father, who was in the army. that is pretty funny. four years later, we lived in texas. i dad was stationed there. he remembered his four-year-old son had got excited by rockets. he brought home four books on space travel. we all knew pretty soon some person was going to go into space and i read the books and had a personal revelation.
i then understood that the tiny dots were places where one might travel. i was just excited about the idea. subconsciously, i think i must have remembered this movie. i knew science was how you got to go to such places. i decided at age eight i wanted to be an astronaut/scientist. a few years later, i was in high school. even in elementary school, back in the old days, we had these huge things called encyclopedias. dad bought a set of encyclopedia britannica for us. one day, i was paging through it and came across a really weird thing at the time. it was some kind of arithmetic. it had equal signs and plus signs. it turned out to be one of the great equations of physics. for me at age nine or 10, i was
fascinated by this thing and i wondered, could i ever personally understand the story it told? in high school, finally, in 11th grade, it was a segregated high school. over 100 years old now. i had a fantastic teacher. two week into the course, i knew it was physics i wanted to be doing. >> what was the equation call the atco -- called? >> i think you met brian, who talks about the quantum -- were all this weird stuff goes on. that behavior, all we do -- although we do not see it in our world, that is electrons. it accurately describes how to build cell phones. it is the equation that hooked me into science. >> your current job?
>> currently, i am a professor of physics at the university of maryland. my tightest -- title is ridiculously long. it is a real mouthful. what it basically means is the dreams i had when i was eight and 14, they all came true. >> here is that video clip. there are a lot of them on the web of you talking about something i want you to define for someone like me. let's watch. >> how do you feel about describing signs in 30 seconds? >> i will attempt. if you cut your yardstick in 10 equal pieces, it would go from this big to that big. take that same thing, cut it in 10 pieces. if you do this process 10 times, you get to the size of the atom. suppose you did that 35 times.
universe? people like me have been working on a piece of mathematics called string theory and superstring theory to answer the question. >> i tried. >> what were we watching? >> i was challenged to explain the science i do in 30 seconds. this is a part of a program called, the secret life of scientists. they have an archive of people like me doing this and talking about what we do as people engaged in science. that was the challenge and that is what i delivered. >> how could you tell when people like me here that 30- second definition and have not got a clue? >> actually, what generally happens is people do tend to get something from that. they understand what we are doing is trying to study the
world at its smallest possible scales. the other thing i think is really interesting is my wife is often -- often asked by people who find out i am a theoretical physics is, what do you actually do? her answer is, he makes up things for a living. that is sort of right. the way i prefer to tell my story is the following. most people know what novelists do. they take words and make characters and tell stories. a theoretical physicist does the same thing except we use mathematics to make up our characters and tell our stories. then, if we are really good at what we do, our stories correspond to something that happens in nature. that little clip you saw a few moments ago was my attempt to boil down to a very 32nd soundbite mode to describe what it is i and people in my community do. >> did you have to practice? >> we got to take in three or four times. >> here is another piece of video that further defines your life. let's watch. [applause]
>> 2011 national medal of science, university of maryland, professor jim gates. the contribution of mathematics in particle field and string theater -- theater -- theory. [applause] >> how did that happen? >> i do not know the complete story. one never knows how this get started. i can tell you generally what happened, which is someone somewhere decided to nominate me for this award. that part i do know. eventually, that day, i found out the former president of the university of maryland campus,
daniel mode, who served a magnificent term and got out two years ago, was the person who nominated me for the award. the process after the nomination becomes totally opaque. some set of michael -- of my colleagues were then solicited to provide input on what it was i had done in my scientific career. this then went to another group of scientists, who then evaluate the letters of reference as they come in. then, there is a group that does an evaluation that says, is this scientist really worthy of receiving this recognition? the national men of science is a unique honor in my life. most people have heard of the medal of honor. we know brave soldiers in extreme acts of bravery defending our country can earn the medal of honor.
some people have heard of the metal of art. these beautiful performances in the kennedy center. most people do not know there is a medal of science, a comparable medal our country uses to recognize an individual's contribution to science. it was just a dream come true. >> did i hear them say in 2011 that you got this in 2013? >> yes. this was a 2011 award for the metal. it did not happen until 2013 because in between that time, the white house was slightly distracted with a little thing called an election. this ceremony and a number of other things were put off while they were attending with trying to win an election. >> what impact has the board had on you?
>> i wish someone had warned me beforehand what the award does. the ceremony took lace at the beginning of february. since the middle of february to until now, i have been in 12 states in two countries. i have been constantly running cynthia -- cynthia ward making presentations. also, some of the public policy. i have four careers. one of them involves public policy. i am pretty sure though the award was given by science, i am sure the other parts of my professional activities also contributed to people judging me a worthy recipient. i tell people i have four careers. my first is teaching. this is my fourth consecutive year teaching in the classroom. it has been since 1972, university students either mathematics or physics. my second career is as a researcher.
in 1977, i wrote my phd thesis. it was the first at m.i.t. on the subject called supersymmetry, which lies at the foundation of superstring theory, which a lot of people have heard. i have prepared myself very well to work in super string theory. my third career is in public outreach. i have been featured on 5, 6, seven video documentaries, mostly on nova. i have been asked to talk about nonscientist about what it is our community does. one of the programs was with brian greene. he invited me to serve on tour in his program. he is one of the expert commentators. finally, my fourth career is in public policy. it is very strange because this career did not come from no
place. i have been involved my entire life. in some lesser ways than public policy. in 2009, two quite remarkable things happened within weeks of each other. i was at a conference. my friend called and said the government's office is trying to reach you. i thought, what did i do wrong? it was one of the governors staff members and we began a conversation about my perhaps joining the maryland state word of education. the staff member to me that the governor of maryland had a very deep interest in stem. it is inter-played with the economic vitality of state in the future. you really want kids that are good at this stuff. the jobs in the future look like they will use that skill set more than we do now. that was one thing. the other thing that happened, within about two weeks, was a
call from dr. harold, a nobel prize winner and the former head of the national institute of health. i had known herald for some time. this is a funny story because i was on my way to india and i was sitting there at an airport in amsterdam at my computer like i always am. i got this message from harold saying we need to speak. i sent back a message, i am on my way to india. let's talk in a week. i got back in the u.s. and i wait for his call and nothing happens. i said, whatever it was, it must have gone away. about a week after that, i get another message from harold saying, i need to talk to you. i said, i have been back a week. i thought you would have touched base by now. let's talk any time. a week goes by and i do not hear anything.
then i am on my way to florida to give a talk at the civic's department there. at the airport, my mobile phone rings. it is harold and says, can we talk? i said, we have been trying to talk for a month now. what is going on? he said, if you weffn appointment to the u.s. president council advisory on science technology, what would be your answer? my response was, stop kidding. then he said, he was serious. it was one of the few times in my life when my knees went weak because i knew exactly what that was. it was the acronym that we use. to be called upon to advise the president of the united states in service to one's country, this was just unimagined to me in my life. since 2009, i have been an advisor to president obama on this council of about 20 of us that includes people like eric schmidt of google as a member of the council, craig at microsoft,
the former president of yale is a member, shirley jackson, and it is just an incredible group of people. we advise the president of the united states on issues having to do with science and technology. >> are your parents alive? >> i wish they were. my mother actually died when i was 12. it was a very painful experience. in an odd way, it contributed to my becoming a scientist in order to escape the emotional pain of the separation. i was -- i retreated into a world of fantasy, reading comic books. because of this attribute of my personality, i sustained the use of my imagination well into my teenage years and at the time, i noted a lot of my friends no longer used their imaginations but i did. it turns out that was very important.
to be a theoretical physicist, you have to. i did the right thing. my dad, who was an incredible man, he left a farm in alabama when he was 17 years old, joined the u.s. army. he lied about his age in the process. weighing 127 pounds. i used to tell him after i found out his weight, i said, those two pounds made a difference. 10 pounds lighter, he would not have been inducted into the army. because he made the weight requirement, he joined the u.s. army, had a 127 -- he had a 27 year long career. he was in love with the idea of being a soldier and defending the company. he was a very industrious guy. he was very committed to education. our family, when we were young, the question was never whether you would go to college. the question was, what college
will you go to? you never had the option of saying, i do not know where -- if i am going. he was the person i have to attribute most of who i am too. -- to. two years before my mother's death, he rated -- raised for children by himself while doing service. i was amazed about how he could manage that. at my mothers funeral, the commanding general of fort liss, a training center still in operation, said his color guard sent his color guard to my mother's funeral. i remember the soldiers with the flag honoring my father because of the loss of my mother. we have a deep tradition of service to the country. when i received a call to serve, i thought, my goodness, my -- what my father would have said about this. >> why did you take an interest in chess at an early age?
how old were you? >> you have done your research. when i was in seventh grade, we had just moved about a half year earlier to the orlando metropolitan area. my father remarried. i had a stepmother, an elementary school teacher, typically teaching first, second, and third graders. we finished sixth grade in my mother's school. she was teaching in florida at the time. in those days, we did not have middle school. it was junior high school and high school all lumped together. grades seven through 12 were in this one school. i went there. we were kind of different. dad had moved around.
the move -- the usual way of the army brat ear that is the kind of lifestyle we live. the other kids have different accents. i have a flat accent. i had to learn to be black. an interesting experience. we had never been in a situation where there were only african- americans. we had always been raised in multi-cultural environments. i am in this school, doing pretty well. i always was a great student and wound up being the valedictorian when i graduated. one day, i heard about another kid who was very smart. my friends would say, i bet philip is smarter than you are. you know, at that age, you walk around with a chip on your shoulder about something if you are a guy. this guy cannot be that smart. some of our mutual friends introduced us.
we felt each other out in terms of, what do you think about algebra class? it was really funny. normally, guys, who has got the better hoops? with me, it was, how fast can you get to the answer to this problem? we are feeling each other out intellectually and coming to understand, this guy is pretty good. it was the first time in my life i actually met someone who intellectually, i felt, i better watch this for -- this person. he introduced me to chess, which he knew how to play and i did not. he wiped me off the board for a couple of months. it was so incredibly frustrating. i had never been intellectually bested at anything in my life. eventually, one day, while we were playing chess, i beat him. i used a painting maneuver with a rook. you set up a certain thing where the piece locks the rook and you move it and the rook automatically has influence on the road it is in. i won the match. after that, we were pretty equal.
our matches came down to the point where a single pawn could make the difference between win and loss. we were never rated. we did have interesting experiences. by this intense competition, when you are intensely completing against -- competing against anything, it draws a crowd. a group of guys woodlot -- watch us play the game. they learned how to play. my physics teacher played chess. he taught us some things. we had a french teacher who also played chess. we eventually formed a chess team, the first time an all- black school had a chess team. we were looking to challenge other people. our teachers contacted some of the other high schools. in those days, the tradition was a segregated environment and we were the only black school in the city. the only other high schools we could play were predominately european-american students. we beat everybody we ever played. >> what was the reaction?
>> surprise. i will never forget the first time -- in orlando, one of the big notable high schools in those days, before disney world, the area only had 20,000 people. one of the big high schools in orlando was edgewater. it is still there. that is where we had our first match. i went to the match and was impressed by the fact of the difference between the facilities, the equipment, the books, were just amazing. our books were two years, falling apart. they had new books, swimming ports, -- swimming pools, and that was one sort of stock -- shock. that is how i came to understand how segregation impacted african-americans in the country, as well as our fellow european-american students. they are put in position of
believing things that are not true. the chess match was a perfect example. we sat down at the second table. my friend philip was at the first table. i played second table. my youngest brother, who was four years younger than i was, played third table. we sat down and i sat across from a young man. he had been playing chess for six or seven years and i have been playing for three or four. we sat down and i was very cautious in my open. at a certain point, i decided he was not that good and i beat him. our chess team never lost a match the entire team we played. when we graduated, the team basically disbanded. about two years later, some of the underclassmen had been aware of what we were doing and they reprised our record. >> here is some video of a writer named chris mooney.
i want you to watch this. he talks about science and gets you to fill in the blanks. >> it is not just about people not knowing the facts. that does not really describe the nature of the problem, although it is lamentable. they should certainly have more factual knowledge. it is ignored again when you consider the place of science in society. science in our culture, scientists are not role models, they are not looked up to. 44% of americans in another survey could not give a name for a scientific role model. they are polled and they cannot answer the question. among those who do answer the question get the top three choices. bill gates, al gore, and albert einstein. what is noticeable about the group is either they are not scientists or not alive. >> what is your take on that? >> chris identifies something many of us worry about for the united states in its future.
i am a child of the 1950's. we were raised in the shadow of the second world war, first of all, and certainly, being an army brat, i was conscious of the fact that we had a military that had an something almost miraculous in winning the war. i also, because of my interest in science, understood the connection between the technological advances that our nation had been able to develop and the fact that we had scientists capable of meeting those developments. my entire generation came up with that. then came the space race. once again, we started off fearful, behind. russia is the first country to orbit an artificial satellite with sputnik. she is the first country to put man in space. all of that is happening. president kennedy makes a call to the nation, a challenge, that we, within 10 years, would put a
man on the moon. part of that speech, which people tend to forget, he also says, we will choose to do this because it is not easy but because it is hard. he called the nation, called to the nation, a deeply american spiritual way to meet a challenge. a challenge that involved science and technology. as a nation, we have really not, since then, called on the country to use its great abilities where scientists are integral to the public knowledge of the interest. it turns out, it is always in trouble. the list included bill gates.
he was at one point the richest person in the world. it turned out to be the web. al gore was involved with that. all that rested on a foundation of a science. we are in a paradox goal state where much of our economic activity in the country, the economic vitality, the opportunity to live the american dream, are directly tied to science, and yet, the general population is of little aware of the relationship between the two. we have this challenge in the scientific community and the educational community and the community of public policy makers and media figures like yourself to try to make sure our public is aware of the connection. if we do not maintain our lead in this sort of understanding, there are possibilities for direct outcomes in the future. most americans are not aware that china has a space program right now. she does. if you go on the web, you can find out about it. she has been making progress in her capacities in space.
most recently, showing the ability to dock orbiting space tracks -- crafts. she has stated her goal is to put a human on the moon. i suspect that will happen within a decade. if i were in that program, i would make sure it was a woman. if i wanted to one up the americans, i would be the first to put a woman on the moon. i think this kind of challenge will be out there. another involves environment, although it is controversial to talk about climate change and the impact that we humans are having on the ecosystem. in the scientific community, this is not a controversial. the overwhelming amount of scientists agree we are doing this. how do we fix this and not do something immoral, which is to lead -- leave the world worse off for our children and grandchildren? the solution will involve science. >> why do you think conservatives are so strongly opposed to the climate change,
the whole global warming issue? >> i do not think of it in those terms. when everyone gets into this dichotomous argument of liberals versus conservatives, you do both sides a disservice. >> i ask that because i listened to all kinds of talk shows on the left and right. the right talk shows come down very strongly anti-global warming. they are anti-the whole subject and the whole idea. why do you think they are? >> from what i can understand of the argument, it is actually because they have concerns about the economic welfare of the country, just like the rest of us. their concern is that we scientists are doing and saying something that will cause americans not to have the economic vitality and freedom we are used to. i understand that perfectly well. being a scientist,
unfortunately, i kind of know what the scientific evidence tells me. we can certainly choose to do nothing. that is more or less what we have done. it will mean the laws of nature will act in such a way that they will continue to do what they do. all the evidence is starting to accumulate more and more that we are going to have an impact on the environment. i find it interesting one of the most conservative organizations in our society, the pentagon, the military, they are preparing for global climate change. at least for almost a decade. >> in what way? >> for example, if you have the opportunity to talk to people in the pentagon to talk about the green military, the green navy, the green air force, they are talking about having a smaller carbon impact on society from the operations of military, have more fuel efficient vehicles, being able use power more
efficiently. the pentagon has been all over this stuff. this is a message not out in our society as a whole. that is a very conservative organization, because their responsibility is the welfare of the country. conservatives i do not think are just against this. it is just there is a lot of education that has to be done. >> the energy department is trying on a yearly basis to get attention of the young kids with science. we have a video from last year. i will run a little bit. we need a lot of help in defining what they are talking about. >> my name is kennedy. i am a senior. my favorite subject is astronomy. i would like to be a researcher when i grow up. >> i am a senior. i like chemistry. i do not know what i want to be.
collects i am also a senior. my favorite subject is earth science. i do not know what i will be either. >> my name is danny. my first -- favorite subject is bio chemistry, particle physics. what i want to be to -- when i grow up is, i do not know. >> anytime a compound is put into the spectrometer and subsequently broken up an ionized, two pieces of almost the exact same intensity always show up on the spectrum. given the math on the periodic table, what masses -- >> 79 and 81. >> correct. >> most students do not have a clue. are people born with this kind
of ability? you knew you were smart at an early age. >> most kids start off knowing they are pretty smart. the evidence is, when you go to an elementary school at grades 1, 2, 3, 4, and you talk to kids about the world and tell them about stuff, the enthusiasm, it is just off scale. you do the same thing in grades 8, 10, it is very different. something is happening in our education process to turn natural curiosity off. this is an event together with another event that constitutes the super bowl of science, and the other event is the intel science talent. the finalists come here every year to washington dc and it is sponsored by the organization i am on the board of advisors, the society of science and public.
the competition, this competition, you just see the kids survived our educational system are just so fantastic and so capable of contributing to the future of the country. it causes heartburn, pain, because you know a small group of kids made it. we know there are far more american kids who could do this, too. >> when did you first know you were smart? >> well, i could tell you when it really came into my conscious. i was probably in ninth or 10th grade. a friend of mine asked me a question one day in school. this is actually after philip and i had our first encounter. i did not think of that as smart. it was just a guy thing. one thing -- one day, another friend asked me a question.
i said, i do not know the answer to that. he sat back, stunned. he said, that is the first time in three or four years i have known you that you have not know the answer to a question. he said, you are smart. i thought, maybe he is right. >> how do you define smart? >> it has a lot of definitions. i could tell you one way i am not smart. if you put me on a basketball court, i will embarrass myself. i am not smart at basketball. what is smart to me means really the capacity to use one's intellectual ability to create new solutions, to find answers to problems, in ways that maybe have never occurred before. >> where did you meet your wife? >> m.i.t.
she is an impressive lady in her own right. she is a medical doctor who has been in practice in charles county, maryland, for over 20 years. she is the managing partner and ceo of the business side of the practice she runs and treats patients. she has recently gotten into public medicine and is now the health officer for charles county and has always wanted to do public medicine. she plays three instruments. i play zero. i am not smart there. she plays guitar, piano, and clarinet. she is just incredible. we met at m.i.t. i felt it was hate at first sight. she was actually a student who i had the perception she had a lot of attentional that she would not actually harness. i would do these things to try to get her more engaged in class. i thought i was doing diligent
to try to draw a student out. from her point of view, i was picking on her. at the end of the class, both of us were very happy to see the other walk out of each other's life. >> you were the professor? >> yes. >> you have got three degrees from m.i.t.? >> yes. in 1973, i received a bachelors in mathematics, physics, and then in 1977, a phd in physics. the fact that i have two bachelor degrees is an accident. when i came to m.i.t., i wanted to be a physicist. i knew that since 11th grade. if i could not be an astronaut. i almost became an astronaut. maybe we will explore that. when i was in an undergraduate, my grades were better in mathematics. i declared myself a math major and i did physics classes because that is what i love. when i was a senior, a friend of
mine suggested i might be able to get both bachelors degrees. they looked at the transcript at m.i.t. and said, you look like you are a physics major except you have to do some classes in your senior year and get a bachelors degree. >> let's not go any farther without talking about the challenger who lost his life. how well did you know him? >> i knew ron mcnair from the year of 1969 to the year of his death. during the summer of 1969, before i went to m.i.t., there was a summer program i was invited to participate in. a transitional program. it was the most challenging and intellectual thing i had ever done at that point. one of the things we did, a group of us, we had a fighten
we were all a bunch of poor students looking to save money peered one of the ways we did is a couple of us formed the food co-op. we would pitch our money together and there was a young lady in the group who would cook the food. we would go into boston to the market and buy fresh vegetables. that is how i first met ron, part of our food co-op. we attended m.i.t. as graduate students together from 1973 to 1977. in 1973, i was surprised to see he returned to m.i.t. because he did his undergraduate work out of a college in carolina. we truly bonded over something called a general examination. in order to get one's phd, it is standard practice there is a final exam that the university or department would administer that acts as a go, no go signature. it is called the general exam at
m.i.t. the final written exam, a five- hour exam for part two. and then there is an oral examination. you have to demonstrate to your faculty you have mastered the content of a graduate student. and that you are prepared to go on to write your phd thesis. ron and i tried to take the exam. we were both unsuccessful in our first attempt. i was amazed. at that point, i questioned whether i could do this lifelong dream of becoming a physicist. ron was also in love with the idea of being a physicist. ron and i concluded that maybe if we worked together, we would have a better shot at it the second time. in the entire month of january of 1975, we studied together. it was the first time in my life
i actually did study with someone else. before then in doing homework, i always was a lone wolf. i went to my corner and got it done and got good grades and felt good about myself. it was clear that i had to learn to be more cooperative. this interaction with ron taught me a lot of interesting things. one is the power of having -- attacking a problem. which i had no appreciation for. he also taught me that a problem usually has several alternative solutions. one of the things i took away from the relationship is i learned how to do simulated second voice in my thinking. when i think about a problem, i now say, this is what you think about it from this point of view. what other possible points of view might there be? i got that from my interaction with ron. we studied together.
eventually, we both passed the qualifying examination and we were both permitted to proceed with the writing of our respective theses. >> where were you the day the challenger blew up? >> i was a professor at the university of maryland on the day the challenger exploded. it is one of those days, personally, similar to what a lot of people say about the death of kennedy, i know exactly where i was when i heard the news. for me, it was one of those days. i remember exactly where i was when i heard president kennedy had been assassinated. i was a professor at the university of maryland and i walked into a bank because we had a bank on campus and i was standing in line to get to the teller and a young woman ran into the room and shouted, the shuttle exploded. a bunch of student started laughing. we have a system on the campus that is called the shuttle and
they are always breaking down. people thought she was making a joke about one of the shuttles stopped working. then there was a look of horror that came over her face and she said, no, the real shuttle blew up. when she said that, that instant, i realized i had lost a friend. i had seen ron about six months before his death. we had a roast for him back at m.i.t. he and i talked about our early experiences of studying for the general examination and we talked about the fact that ron almost always beat me to the answer by very different methods. so i said he had access to some kind of and cancellations or spells to get the answers. his response was, jim was just slow because he starts off with the function, a certain mathematical tech for finding answers. we had a great time at the roast. about a week before he died, we saw the tv news about he and a
teacher astronaut and all of them about to go up. then, on the day of the explosion, i was stunned. i had a friend i had worked with at caltech who was also at maryland with me, by the name of warren siegel, who is also a theoretical physicist. warren let me sit in his office and tell ron stories all day. that was the way i emotionally processed the loss of a friend. a year or so later, there was a ceremony at m.i.t. dedicating a building to ron's memory. there is a ron mcnair building at m.i.t. a year or so after that, an odd incident occurred. a book fell on the floor. i do not remember touching it. it fell on the floor and was open.
i picked it up and saw my name on the page. i read a little bit and in this book, the author had relayed the story of the dedication of the mcnair building at m.i.t. and the book was basically about african americans who had been among the first astronauts, including some who had an opportunity to fly. i immediately bought the book. >> why did you not pursue your possible dream of being -- of being an astronaut? >> nasa told me i had the wrong stuff. in 1979, i was a postdoc at harvard university. i left m.i.t. and got my phd. i was doing -- i worked in a strange mathematical era. i had my friend, warren siegel, and we were working together on it and had developed things no one in the world was -- understood. i was doing something no one had ever done in math and it is physics and we were having a great time. so i was ending my three year
appointment at harvard and i got my second appointment at caltech by then and i was looking forward to going to caltech and working with john schwartz, murray gilmartin, and i have personal stories because of this. i got this call from ron saying nasa will open up another round of applications for people who want to be astronauts. he says, i know you. we have talked about this. you should fly. so, i had some debates, but i did. i applied. i am told they had about 3000 people in that round of applications and they cut pools down to smaller and smaller sizes. then, when they got the remaining group of about 120, they invited the candidates to come down to the johnson space flight center for psychological and physical evaluation. to my very great surprise, because i thought, i am not a super athlete.
i am pretty cool debt -- good at school stuff. i had this manic part of my personality that when i do something, i am going to do my best to get it as good as possible, but i had not thought they would really look closely at me, but they did. so we went down and spend a week at the johnson clearlake facility. they put you inside of toxins and spun you around. it has some psychological evaluation. i had a psychologist who asked me if i love my mother. to me, i thought that only happened in the movies and not in real life. the most interesting part of the week's visit is while i was there on campus, i bumped into ron, who did not know i was there and did not know i had made it that far in the process. we were both walking down the street and there was ron.
i said, i did not know you were here. he said, you have made it this far? so we went over to where all the real astronauts were, their offices, and i met the first african-american to pilot a shuttle. and i met charlie, the current administration of nasa -- administrator of nasa. a few weeks later, i got a call from an official at nasa. i was still living just write down the street from harvard at the time. he said, jim, you presented a great case for yourself. but i am sorry, you were not selected at the finals. at which point, i started laughing. i am sure the person at the other end thought, this guy has gone hysterical and lost it. but he did not know was that if they had said yes, i would have been faced with then the greatest quandary in my life.
the quandary would have been, do i continue to pursue my career as a scientist, working with people like richard and murray and john schwartz, john schwartz being the inventor of string theory? do i do that or pursue this other part of my childhood dream to become an astronaut? how do you make that decision? i would have dreaded that. when they made the decision for me by saying no, effectively, nasa told me i had a wrong stuff, then i did not have to make the decision anymore. i was all said and i was very happy to pursue that line of possibilities. so i just started laughing. with great hilarity on the phone call. >> here is a story you told about a flight to south africa. let's watch. >> i was trying to make my way to the window seat on this occasion. a gem and looked at me and smiled a brilliant smile and said, is this your seat with an accent?
he said, let me get of your way. he jumped up. i had bags to put in the overhead and he was helpful. this was not my first visit in south africa but i thought, this is one of the most helpful -- helpful, friendliest south africans i have ever met. i said, are you a fan of science? he said, no. [laughter] at this point i am like, where did you see me? he said, all of us have seen invictus. [laughter] then i had a hard time convicting me -- convincing him i am not morgan freeman. [laughter] >> has that ever happened before
or after? >> you will not believe this. it happened within the last month. certainly the last two months, three different times. the most recent time was two weeks ago. i was on an airplane and i had come back from the laboratory and i was coming to my seat and i sat down and a young man in front of me turned around and says, you know, shawshank redemption is my favorite movie. i said, you're telling me this why? he said, you are morgan freeman, of course. i said, i am not. i was in south africa about a month ago. i was at jfk, to make a connection. there was a young couple. i wanted to get a croissant for breakfast. i was standing in line. a young couple in front of me. the young man was looking back at me and i did not think much about it. then they got their order and paid for it.
then i moved up and told the young woman i wanted a chocolate croissant and orange juice. at that point, he turned to me and said, oh, you are not morgan freeman. he said, until i heard your voice i thought you might be. i keep telling people i am not morgan freeman. this has been going on since 2005. at least all kinds of funny events. one of the most memorable perhaps did occur in south africa one evening. i was in a restaurant with a group of friends. we were having a wonderful time. at one point, i noticed of the people at the adjacent table looking at that table. i thought, that is rather odd. then i noticed the wait staff started to turn and look at our table. i said, what is going on? you could see some of the chefs coming out to the door and looking at our table. i am like tom a -- i am like. our waiter leaned down and says,
sir, are you morgan freeman? my friend who was sitting to my right types in, yes, he is. he did not want anybody to know. we had a great meal that night. >> why has nobody said are you nelson mandela? [laughter] >> i do not know. i am hopeful to meet morgan freeman. i have been to south africa many times. have always wanted to meet nelson mandela but i do not think i will ever have the opportunity. >> here is your friend, brian greene, at columbia. >> because all of the scientific work we are involved with has to be funded. there are limited funds. what do you spend your money on? for instance, we were building a machine in texas called the superconducting -- in the early 1990's. that was meant to be a huge tunnel in which particles would slam together at high energies,
re-creating events unseen since the big bang. that was a very expensive undertaking and it was ultimately canceled because budgetary constraints would not allow it to go forward. this was a big load to science. there you see the intersection of the work we are doing with public policy can have a great impact on the rate of progress. >> supercollider, what does it do? >> what would it have done? the large gliders, what does it do? well, we take protons and use electrical fields, basically radio signals, to pump energy in them and that causes them to move. in fact, the protons that are accelerated are moving at .9999999 the speed of light. humans have never made anything this fast before. it is almost at the speed of light. we put them in magnetic fields
that cause to rotate in a circular path. then, they are rotating in two separate pipes. the pipes have the air pumped out of them because we do not want them to bump it to air molecules. then you left the two pipes and let them open up into each other so the protons crash into each other. at those points, we americans have done something incredible. i like to tell people there are two big iphones, devices called detectors. both of these devices represent several thousand u.s. physicists working in switzerland, as well as several hundred million u.s. dollars. i remember in 1998, i was in the white house and met president clinton. this was just after the supercollider in texas had been
canceled. it was a great tragedy, especially as we look backwards. you talk about cost. cost was three bombers. the supercollider wound up eating perceived by our policymakers as being a choice between the supercollider and a space station. the space station was the way the country chose to go. the supercollider, which would have been three times as powerful as the one that operates right now, three times, would have found the same physics, we would have been there over a decade ago, so the rate of progress plan was talking about in your video, we would have done these his cover is over a decade ago. >> where can people find -- i saw a lot on the web. we you have done it will -- you have done a lot of talking about science. >> one project is something called superstring theory, the
dna of reality. it was with a teaching company. you can go to their website. >> the teaching company sells videos and audios of you talking about string theory? >> yes, the only video. we have not talked about science. >> we have talked about you and your background. people can find it. what year of students do teach? >> all levels. >> dr. james gates. a research professor. thank you very much for joining us. >> thank you, brian. it was a great opportunity to speak to you and your audience.
>> for a dvd copy of this program call 1-877-662-7726. for free transcripts or to give us your comments about this program, visit us at www.q-and- a.org. "q & a" programs are also available as c-span podcasts. >> next, deputy prime minister nick clegg takes questions. then, a house hearing. i am the next "washington journal" william kristol reviews the news of the week.
debra herdsmen, chairman of the report discusses the ntsb decision to lower the legal blood-alcohol limit. and then the future of the supplemental nutrition assistance program, the food stamp program. washington journal, live at 7:00 a.m. eastern on c-span. >> british deputy prime minister nick clegg stood in for david cameron last wednesday for question time. david cameron was meeting with president obama in washington dc. he fielded questions on human rights violations in sri lanka, youth unemployment, and a referendum that will determine whether the u.k. stays in the european union. this was the first question time of the new parliamentary session. uestions for the prime minister.